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1500 questions
292 answers

Examples of common false beliefs in mathematics

The first thing to say is that this is not the same as the question about interesting mathematical mistakes. I am interested about the type of false beliefs that many intelligent people have while they are learning mathematics, but quickly abandon…
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Polynomial bijection from $\mathbb Q\times\mathbb Q$ to $\mathbb Q$?

Is there any polynomial $f(x,y)\in{\mathbb Q}[x,y]{}$ such that $f\colon\mathbb{Q}\times\mathbb{Q} \rightarrow\mathbb{Q}$ is a bijection?
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16 answers

Why do roots of polynomials tend to have absolute value close to 1?

While playing around with Mathematica I noticed that most polynomials with real coefficients seem to have most complex zeroes very near the unit circle. For instance, if we plot all the roots of a polynomial of degree 300 with coefficients chosen…
Andrej Bauer
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91 answers

Video lectures of mathematics courses available online for free

It can be difficult to learn mathematics on your own from textbooks, and I often wish universities videotaped their mathematics courses and distributed them for free online. Fortunately, some universities do that (albeit to a very limited extent),…
84 answers

Proofs without words

Can you give examples of proofs without words? In particular, can you give examples of proofs without words for non-trivial results? (One could ask if this is of interest to mathematicians, and I would say yes, in so far as the kind of little gems…
22 answers

Thinking and Explaining

How big a gap is there between how you think about mathematics and what you say to others? Do you say what you're thinking? Please give either personal examples of how your thoughts and words differ, or describe how they are connected for…
53 answers

Widely accepted mathematical results that were later shown to be wrong?

Are there any examples in the history of mathematics of a mathematical proof that was initially reviewed and widely accepted as valid, only to be disproved a significant amount of time later, possibly even after being used in proofs of other…
Roman Starkov
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114 answers

Not especially famous, long-open problems which anyone can understand

Question: I'm asking for a big list of not especially famous, long open problems that anyone can understand. Community wiki, so one problem per answer, please. Motivation: I plan to use this list in my teaching, to motivate general education…
David Feldman
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30 answers

Geometric interpretation of trace

This afternoon I was speaking with some graduate students in the department and we came to the following quandary; Is there a geometric interpretation of the trace of a matrix? This question should make fair sense because trace is coordinate…
B. Bischof
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34 answers

Why is a topology made up of 'open' sets?

I'm ashamed to admit it, but I don't think I've ever been able to genuinely motivate the definition of a topological space in an undergraduate course. Clearly, the definition distills the essence of many examples, but it's never been obvious to me…
Minhyong Kim
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16 answers

What's a mathematician to do?

I have to apologize because this is not the normal sort of question for this site, but there have been times in the past where MO was remarkably helpful and kind to undergrads with similar types of question and since it is worrying me increasingly…
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22 answers

Why do so many textbooks have so much technical detail and so little enlightenment?

I think/hope this is okay for MO. I often find that textbooks provide very little in the way of motivation or context. As a simple example, consider group theory. Every textbook I have seen that talks about groups (including some very basic…
Michael Benfield
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8 answers

Philosophy behind Mochizuki's work on the ABC conjecture

Mochizuki has recently announced a proof of the ABC conjecture. It is far too early to judge its correctness, but it builds on many years of work by him. Can someone briefly explain the philosophy behind his work and comment on why it might be…
34 answers

What are some reasonable-sounding statements that are independent of ZFC?

Every now and then, somebody will tell me about a question. When I start thinking about it, they say, "actually, it's undecidable in ZFC." For example, suppose $A$ is an abelian group such that every short exact sequence of abelian groups…
Anton Geraschenko
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34 answers

Which journals publish expository work?

I wonder if anyone else has noticed that the market for expository papers in mathematics is very narrow (more so than it used to be, perhaps). Are there any journals which publish expository work, especially at the "intermediate" level? By…
Pete L. Clark
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